Herbert Marcuse addressing American students in 1968
Jewish involvement in the New Left
In Jews and the Left, Mendes recounts the disproportionate Jewish involvement in the New Left—a political movement that began in the early 1960s when students travelled to the southern states to support the emerging “civil rights” movement. In the mid-1960s, the movement switched to northern campuses to advocate student rights, free speech and opposition to the Vietnam War. This was the time when the ideas of Frankfurt School intellectuals like Erich Fromm and Herbert Marcuse began to displace orthodox Marxism in leftist movements throughout the West. Mendes notes that:
Jews contributed signiﬁcantly to the theoretical underpinning of the New Left. From 30 to 50 per cent of the founders and editorial boards of such New Left journals as Studies on the Left, New University Thought, and Root and Branch (later Ramparts) were of Jewish origin. Radical academic bodies and think tanks such as the Caucus for a New Politics, the Union of Radical Political Economists and the Institute for Policy Studies were overwhelmingly Jewish. A number of the key intellectual gurus of the New Left such as Paul Goodman, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Herbert Marcuse were also Jewish.[i]
The Jews who flooded the ranks of the New Left in the early-to-mid 1960s “appear to have been largely assimilated third-generation Jews from Old Left backgrounds [i.e., “red diaper babies”], although some had participated in Labor Zionist Groups.” Studies of American Jewish New Left activists reveal many had grown up in highly politicized left-wing family environments. Jews made up around two-thirds of the White Freedom Riders who went south in 1961, and about one-third to one-half of committed New Left activists in the USA, including key leaders such as Abbie Hoffmann and Jerry Rubin. In 1964 they represented from one-half to two-thirds of the volunteers who ﬂooded Mississippi to help register black voters. At Berkeley in 1964, around one-third of the leaders of the Free Speech Movement (FSM) demonstrators were Jewish, as were over half of the movement’s steering committee, including Bettina Aptheker, Suzanne Goldberg, Steve Weisman, and Jack Weinberg who coined the famous phrase “You can’t trust anyone over thirty.[ii] Moreover:
In 1965 at the University of Chicago, 45 per cent of the protestors against the university’s collaboration with the Selective Service System were Jews. At Columbia University in 1968 one-third of the protestors were of Jewish origin, and three of the four student demonstrators killed at Kent State in 1970 were Jewish. Jews comprised a large proportion of the leaders and activists within Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Some of the key leaders included the founder Al Haber, Todd Gitlin and Mark Rudd. Approximately 30 to 50 per cent of the SDS membership in the early–mid 1960s were Jewish.[iii] At one point in the late 1960s, SDS presidents on the campuses of Columbia University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Wisconsin (Madison), North Western University, and Michigan University were all Jews. Jewish participation in SDS was particularly high at Pennsylvania University and the State University of New York. There was also a number of Jews in the violent Weathermen group.[iv]
In accounting for the Jewish domination of the leadership and prominent activist ranks of the New Left, Mendes proposes a range of contributing factors, chief among them “the impact of the Holocaust (and, sometimes, personal experiences of anti-Semitism).” Mendes quotes the former SDS leader Mark Rudd who observed that: “World War II and the Holocaust were our fixed reference points. We often talked about the moral imperative not to be good Germans. We saw American racism as akin to German racism towards the Jews.”[v] Many Jewish SDS activists had a strong Jewish identity and this signiﬁcantly inﬂuenced their politics through informing the struggle against “the institutions of racist, imperialist, capitalist America.”[vi]
SDS leader Mark Rudd
Many Jewish feminists were likewise strongly influenced by their Jewish identity, including their perceptions of Jews’ “history of oppression and sometimes direct personal exposure to anti-Semitism.” Betty Friedan specifically linked her experience of “anti-Semitic” discrimination at high school to the development of her feminist views, recalling that:
I think my passion against injustice came from my experience of being a Jew in Peoria. I wouldn’t be the ﬁrst of our people to have taken the experience of injustice, the passion against injustice, which, if it’s not in our genes, is certainly a product of centuries of experience, and applied it to the largest human category of which one is a part. Jews have been very, very present in centuries of revolutions against one form of injustice or another, one form of oppression or another.[vii]
Many of the prominent early leaders of the feminist movement in the United States were Jewish, such as Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, the author of The Feminine Mystique and ﬁrst President of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Co-founders of NOW included Susan Brownmiller, Shulamith Firestone and Naomi Weisstein, whilst Muriel Fox and Karen Lipschutz DeCrow held executive roles. Other prominent Jewish feminists included Andrea Dworkin, Phyllis Chesler, Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Gerda Lerner. A large number of the founders of the feminist movement in the UK, such as Eva Figes, the author of the inﬂuential 1970 text Patriarchal Attitudes, were also Jewish.
Jews comprised between a third and a half of the leaders of the French New Left, including prominent individuals like Alain Krivine, Alain Geismar, Andre Glucksmann and Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Eleven of the twelve members of the political bureau of the Trotskyist Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire were Jewish. Mendes notes that “about three-quarters of the members of Trotskyist groups in the Paris area were identiﬁably Jewish. Jews were also very well represented among those students who occupied the universities and engaged in other radical activities, such as confrontation with the authorities and the police.[viii] Many Jewish participants in the French New Left came from relatively affluent backgrounds and had communist or anarchist parents who “had spent the war in Nazi or Soviet camps.” Like their American counterparts, they recognized “the specific influence of the Holocaust” on their political commitments.[ix]
Daniel Cohn-Bendit in 1968
A key difference between Jewish involvement in the Old Left and the New Left was the fact the latter barely provoked any anti-Jewish backlash. While there were isolated incidents (the best known being a reference in the French media to the prominent New Left radical Danny Cohn-Bendit as a “German Jew”), no organized campaign targeting Jews for their New Left radicalism emerged. Some Jewish leaders nevertheless feared the prominence of Jews in the New Left would provoke an anti-Jewish backlash or discredit the New Left by stereotyping it as Jewish.
Despite the Jewish domination of the American Left in the post-War period, Mendes notes that “most Americans do not appear to have adhered to the same anti-Semitic assumptions about Jewish links with communism that dominated public opinion in parts of Europe.”[x] As evidence of this, Mendes cites the decidedly muted public response to the conviction and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for selling atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Despite the recognizably Jewish identity of the couple (given their name) and of all of their co-conspirators (David Greenglass, Ruth Greenglass, and Morton Sobell), and the fact the Rosenberg spy network consisted almost exclusively of Jews from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the case “provoked remarkably little overt anti-Semitism.”[xi] Nor, he observes, did the “signiﬁcant number of Jews—including teachers and Hollywood actors—who were victims of anti-communist purges” and the prominence of Jews amongst those subpoenaed by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, lead to a significant reaction. All public opinion polls conducted during this period showed a consistent decline in “anti-Semitism,” and only a small minority of those surveyed (about 5 percent) identiﬁed Jews with communism.[xii]
The lack of any real backlash to Jewish prominence in the New Left is ascribed to various factors: that many members of the public were not aware of the Jewish background of many of the radical leaders; that these Jewish radicals were ostensibly “not campaigning about any speciﬁcally Jewish issues that would have focused attention on Jews per se;” and to the “general decline in anti-Semitism since World War Two.”[xiii] This latter shift in public opinion (unsurprisingly) coincided with the Jewish seizure of the commanding heights of American (and Western) culture in the 1960s, and the growing emergence of the culture of “the Holocaust.” The combined effect was to banish overt critical discussion of Jewish power to the margins of public discourse. While Americans rejected communist activities during the Cold War, unlike in Europe, they did not widely equate communism with Jews (at least publicly), or view Jewish participation in leftist politics with particular concern.
Neoconservative leaders were among those who feared that the Jewish prominence in the New Left of the late 1960s and early 1970s would fuel a conservative backlash against Jewish radicalism. For example, Norman Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary magazine, attacked leading Jewish leftists as alleged self-hating Jews and completely unrepresentative of the Jewish community.[xiv]
Mendes ascribes the defection of many Jews from the radical left to neoconservatism in the 1970s to a growing misalignment between modern Leftist politics and Jewish ethnic interests: the key factor being “the creation of the State of Israel which transformed Jewish dependence from international to national forces.”[xv] With the advent of the state of Israel, Jewish interests were no longer exclusively represented by the universalistic agendas of the Left. According to Mendes: “Most Jews have lost their faith in universalistic causes because they do not perceive the Left as supportive of Jewish interests, and have turned instead to nationalist solutions.”[xvi] The creation of a Jewish national entity featuring (thanks to US taxpayers) a strong and powerful army meant that Jews all over the world could look to the Zionist state to safeguard their interests, rather than depending on internationalist movements and ideologies (i.e. communism and the Soviet Union) which had often proven to be unreliable allies. Even many left-wing Jews, who might have been anti-Zionist prior to World War Two, shifted their position after the birth of Israel. For example, the long-time Austrian Jewish leftist Jean Amery commented in 1976:
There is a very deep tie and existential bond between every Jew and the State of Israel… Jews feel bound to the fortunes and misfortunes of Israel, whether they are religious Jews or not, whether they adhere to Zionism or reject it, whether they are newly arrived in their host countries or deeply rooted there… The Jewish State has taught all the Jews of the world to walk with their head high once more… Israel is the virtual shelter for all of the insulted and injured Jews of the earth.[xvii]
The perceived anti-Zionism of the New Left from the 1967 onwards served to alienate many Jews and conﬁrm their commitment to nationalist, rather than internationalist solutions. An additional factor was the 1967 Six Day War in the Middle East, which provoked fears of “another Holocaust,” and galvanized even non-Zionist Jews in support of Israel. There were rallies in support of Israel throughout the Western world accompanied by large donations. American Jews held massive fundraising campaigns and reportedly raised 180 million dollars. Numerous volunteers travelled to Israel to support the Jewish State. In Australia, more than 20 per cent of a total Jewish population of 34,000 in Melbourne—attended a public rally to express their support for Israel, and 2500 attended a youth rally. 750 young Jews volunteered to go to Israel. According to Taft,
there was a widespread, almost universal, absorption in the Middle East Crisis of June among the Jews of Melbourne. This absorption took the form of extreme concern about the safety of Israel, emotional upsets, obsessive seeking of news, constant discussion of events and taking spontaneous actions to support Israel’s cause.[xviii]
The rise of left-wing anti-Zionism after the Six Day War furthered alienated sections of Western Jewry from the social democratic Left. Another factor that pushed American Jews in a neoconservative direction, identified by Mendes, was the decline in Black–Jewish relations. The emergence of the Black Power movement in the mid-1960s led to the removal of Jews from the leadership of organizations like the NAACP. Black hostility was viewed by some Jews as evidence of the failure of the strategy of courting non-White groups to advance Jewish interests. This ostensible failure prompted many Jews to concentrate on a narrower ethnic self-interest in the future.[xix]
This, in turn, contributed to the creation of “pragmatic alliances” with conservative political parties such as the Republicans and evangelical groups such as Christians United for Israel which “have been consistent supporters of Israel in the USA.” An associated factor was that pro-Israel perspectives within Western countries increasingly emanated from mainstream conservatives, rather than from the moderate or radical Left. This occurred despite “many in these groups hold socially conservative views on issues such as abortion, homosexuality, the environment, multiculturalism, state support for the poor and disadvantaged, and refugees, which are anathema to many Jews.”[xx] Mendes makes the point that “These alliances were based solely on the latter’s position of support for Israel, irrespective of their conservative views on social issues such as abortion, homosexuality and the welfare state, which were often sharply at odds with the more liberal opinions of most Jews.”[xxi]
Despite the defection on many Jews from the radical left to neoconservatism, the great majority of American Jews still see their ethnic interests as basically aligning with the Democratic Party. Their willingness to prioritize their ethnic interests over their personal economic interests is reflected in the fact that “high numbers of affluent Jews compared to others of the same socioeconomic status still vote for moderate left parties that do not seem to favor their economic interests.” Today, the structural factors which historically drew many Jews to the Left no longer exist. Most Jews sit comfortably in middle- or even higher-income categories. This “middle-classing” of Jews throughout the West has meant that the “Jewish proletariat that motivated Jewish identiﬁcation with left-wing beliefs no longer exists.”[xxii] Consequently, “the speciﬁc link between Jewish experience of class oppression and adherence to left-wing ideology has ended.”[xxiii]
Most Western Jews still support parties on the Left
Despite the widespread break with the radical Left over support for Israel, Jews nevertheless remain a “massively signiﬁcant presence” in the Left in terms of their numbers and fundraising, their organizational capacity, and their impact on popular culture.[xxiv] It was estimated that about a quarter of the world’s leading Marxist and radical intellectuals in the 1980s were still Jews, including Ernest Mandel, Nathan Weinstock, Maxime Rodinson, Noam Chomsky, Marcel Liebman, Ralph Miliband, and the founder of deconstructionism, Jacques Derrida. Despite continuing to comprise much of the intellectual and financial backbone of the Left, today’s Jews, “an inﬂuential and sometimes powerful group, with substantial access to politics, academia and the media,” no longer must “rely on the Left to defend their interests and wellbeing.”[xxv]
The primary reason most Western Jews still vote overwhelmingly for parties on the left is the perceived threat posed by the “social conservatism” of parties further to the right of the political spectrum in nations whose majorities are European-derived and nominally at least Christian:
With the possible exception of ultra-orthodox groups, Jews seem to prefer social liberal positions on issues such as religious pluralism, abortion, feminism, illicit drugs, same-sex marriage, the science of climate change and euthanasia. Another significant factor is the long history of Christian anti-Semitism has led Jews to remain suspicious of any attempts by Christian religious groups to undermine the separation of church and state. This fear of organized religion [and of the White people who practice it] seems to explain the continued strong support of American Jews for the Democratic Party in presidential elections. A further complicating factor is the growing universalization of Jewish teachings and values, including the lessons of the Holocaust, in support of social liberal perspectives. … For example, Berman (2006) presents evidence that the younger Jewish generation in Australia have been influenced by the experience of the Holocaust into taking a strong stand against any forms of racial or religious discrimination. Many are active in campaigns for indigenous rights, and to support refugees from Afghanistan, Sudan, and Middle Eastern countries seeking asylum in Australia.[xxvi]
This advocacy is, of course, entirely hypocritical and cynical. While promoting pluralism and diversity and encouraging the dissolution of the racial and ethnic identification of Europeans, Jews have simultaneously endeavored to maintain precisely the kind of intense group solidarity they decry as immoral in others and the great majority support an ethno-nationalist Israel. They have initiated and led movements that have discredited the traditional foundations of Western society: patriotism, the Christian basis for morality, social homogeneity, and sexual restraint. At the same time, within their own communities, they have supported the very institutions they have attacked in Western societies. This is ruthless, uncompromising Darwinian group competition played out in the human cultural arena.
The ideological preoccupations of organized Jewry today are reflected in comments by Boston Globe writer, S.I. Rosenbaum, who insisted the main lesson of “the Holocaust” is “that white supremacy could turn on us at any moment,” and the strategy of appealing to the White majority “has never worked for us. It didn’t protect us in Spain, or England, or France, or Germany. There’s no reason to think it will work now.” The central question of Jewish political engagement in Western societies, she insists, is “how we survive as a minority population,” where the one great advantage American Jewry enjoys is that “unlike other places where ethno-nationalism has flourished, the U.S. is fast approaching a plurality of minorities.” Presiding over a coalition of non-Whites groups to actively oppose White interests is the Jewish ethno-political imperative: “If Jews are going to survive in the future, we will have to stand with people of color for our mutual benefit.”
Jewish writer David Cole recently questioned the wisdom of this strategy of using non-Whites as “golem” to protect the Jews from a recrudescence of National Socialism. He notes that many of the Jews’ non-White pets (like Ilhan Omar) have a disconcerting tendency to turn on their Jewish masters:
For decades, leftist Jews have been flooding the West with Third World immigrants, “Hey here’s a plan—lets dump a hundred thousand Somalis in the whitest parts of the U.S. That’ll save us from Fargo Hitler!” Inundating the West with non-White immigrants is seen by Jews as an insurance policy against “white supremacy.” The idea is that these immigrants will act as a wedge, diluting “white power” while remaining small enough to be manageable.
Jews have done this everywhere—playing two groups against each other as a way of assuring Jewish security. Let’s play Hamas against the Palestinian authority. Let’s play ISIS against Assad. … But today we live in a world in which even the lowliest bark-eater in the Kalahari can have internet access. It’s not as easy to fool entire groups anymore (individuals, sure, but not an entire race, ethnicity or faction). …
And now we Jews, so worried that Minnesota might become the Frozen Fourth Reich if left in the hands of evil whites, have created for ourselves a good old-fashioned golem in Ilhan Omar (and a bunch of the other Third World freshman congressthingies). Yeah, Omar hates whites. Yeah, she thinks white supremacy lurks behind every glass of milk and “OK” finger sign. But she hates Jews a hell of a lot more…
In a perfect world, the Rabbinical Rain Men would finally get the fuck over the Holocaust and end their war of hostility against the West. They’d see that whites are no longer the enemy, but indeed the opposite. They’d see that importing foreign mud to mold golem in traditionally white regions of the U.S is bad strategy.
Here Cole vividly restates Kevin MacDonald’s point in Culture of Critique that: “Although multiculturalist ideology was invented by Jewish intellectuals to rationalize the continuation of separatism and minority-group ethnocentrism in a modern Western state, several of the recent instantiations of multiculturalism may eventually produce a monster with negative consequences for Judaism.”[xxvii] The creation of this “monster” is ostensibly regarded by Jewish leaders and activists as a risk worth taking to demographically, politically and culturally weaken threatening White populations. In the minds of Jewish leaders and activists nurtured since birth on the cult of “the Holocaust,” White nationalism is still the most ominous threat to Jewish survival. This is reflected in the unquestioning commitment of the vast majority of Jewish activists and intellectuals (Cole excepted) to mass non-White immigration and multiculturalism in all historically White nations.
While Jews and the Left offers a useful catalogue of Jewish involvement in radical political movements throughout the world over the last two centuries, it recycles many of the same apologetic tropes that permeate the work of other Jewish historians and intellectuals. Mendes mischaracterizes the Jewish identity and affiliations of important Jewish communist leaders (like Lazar Kaganovich), and offers no examination of their often-murderous actions. He provides feeble apologies for the Jewish practices that engendered hostility among the native peasantry in the Pale of Settlement. The inherent weakness of his position necessitates specious argumentation and desperate resort to that evergreen of Jewish apologetic historiography: the innate irrationality and malevolence of the European mind and character. This is the invariable fallback position in any quest to exculpate Jews from responsibility for the crimes of communism in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe. Though less inclined than Brossat and Klingberg in Revolutionary Yiddishland to glorify Jewish communist militants, Mendes is equally keen to evade, whitewash and excuse disproportionate Jewish involvement in some of the worst crimes of the twentieth century.
[i] Philip Mendes, Jews and the Left: The Rise and Fall of a Political Alliance (Melbourne, Victoria; Palgrave MacMillian, 2014), 250.
[ii] Ibid., 249.
[iii] Ibid., 250.
[v] Ibid., 254.
[vi] Ibid., 255.
[vii] Ibid. 259.
[viii] Ibid., 251.
[ix] Ibid., 256.
[x] Ibid., 229.
[xi] Ibid., 230.
[xiii] Ibid., 257.
[xiv] Ibid., 22.
[xv] Ibid., viii.
[xvi] Ibid., 235.
[xvii] Ibid., 236-37
[xviii] Ibid., 238.
[xix] Ibid., 243.
[xx] Ibid., 287.
[xxi] Ibid., 239.
[xxii] Ibid., 239.
[xxiii] Ibid., 241.
[xxiv] Ibid., 287.
[xxv] Ibid., 286.
[xxvi] Ibid., 288-89.
[xxvii] Kevin MacDonald, The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in Twentieth‑Century Intellectual and Political Movements, (Westport, CT: Praeger, Revised Paperback edition, 2001), 313.